If Software Engineers Ran The World

I recently ran updates on my computer. I knew I shouldn’t do it. Years of past experience told me that it was a dangerous and foolish thing to do. I’ve resisted their reminders for weeks now, maybe months, possibly even years. But in a moment of weakness I clicked on ‘update and then shut down’ when I turned off my computer the other day. I thought to myself: maybe this update is important, perhaps it was for my benefit—and I worried that if I kept ignoring it, then something bad might happen to me. I forgot, in a moment of dementia, that every other time I’ve ever updated my software in the past, it invariably has caused me untold angst, frustration, and despair as it surprisingly changes all the settings I’ve come to rely upon, or it adds new unexpected annoyances that pop-up and never go away. 

Computers can be useful tools. We can do lots of cool stuff with them. But the people who design the software that runs them should not be allowed to get near them again, once they finish their first version. Assuming their initial effort works satisfyingly well, software engineers should be locked out henceforth, and denied all further access to our machines. If they must ‘improve’ something, let them turn their efforts to improving their own relationships (don’t their kids need their moms or dads to toss a ball with them, or help them with their homework?), or they should be unleashed on some other aspect of life to ‘improve’, but not our computers. If the computer ain’t broke, please don’t ‘fix’ it.

At first this seems a good idea, but then, can you imagine what might happen if software engineers were unleashed upon other spheres of our lives? Let’s say you’re a carpenter and you build decks. You own a hammer that you enjoy using. Then all of a sudden the engineers come along and take your hammer and give you the new version. This one has a built-in fan that helps cool your hands in hot weather. But the damn thing breaks every time you try to hit a nail with it. The fan blades can’t take the impact. So a month later they’ve come up with a fix. It is a soft rubber cover that fits over the hammer-head so the fan blades won’t be jarred as you hammer. It works, the fan blades no longer break. But now the hammer isn’t hard, and it can’t set nails anymore, and the nail-heads tear through the rubber cover, shredding it, making it unusable. You try to find the first version of the hammer; the one you really liked that worked, but nobody sells it anymore and it isn’t supported.

Thankfully, hammer 3.0 just came out, so you buy that one. It sets nails again, and the fan seems to work without too much effort, though the batteries keep falling out the end of the hammer, but you fix that with duct tape. Everything is good, until your subscription expires. Who knew you had to have a subscription to use your hammer now! You think you can get away with it, so you keep hammering with it, but they have your credit card, and at the end of the month you get dinged for $278.50. It turns out they snuck a microchip into this version of your hammer that tabulates every use; so that every time you hit something with it, they charge you twenty-five cents, since you are using an unlicensed version. You really just want to build decks, but now you are spending all your time trying to figure out how to work with your hammer. You hire someone to hack the chip inside it, at the cost of $150. Now you’re back in business, until your saw breaks.

You have to buy a new one, nobody fixes the one you’ve been using. It was a good saw. But you get a new one and it cuts wood very nicely. The folks at the store show you how it works and its very efficient and you are glad you upgraded, though you still miss your old saw. But you’re about to make decks again, and that’s what you love to do. You unpack the saw but can’t make it work. It turns out there are two hidden buttons up inside the case that nobody told you about. They designed it that way because it looks cool and keeps the buttons from getting wet. But after several calls and a few hours of discussion, you and your buddies figure it out. You locate the buttons and you get the saw going. But the next day you can’t get the saw to work again, even after pressing the hidden buttons. You make a few more calls, but nobody can help you. They ask you to bring the saw into the store. After a few hours at the store, and several calls to the manufacturer, you discover that the day before you didn’t turn the saw off in the correct way; you just unplugged it, stupid. Of course it won’t work again if you do that! First—You have to press the button on the inner left side of the case when turning the saw off. Secondly—that other hidden button, you need to depress that while simultaneously unplugging the saw; this is a safety feature that is designed to help keep the software engineers employed.

On the way back to your jobsite you wonder if you are really a carpenter any longer, or are you becoming a tool technician instead? You’re learning a lot more about your tools than you ever wanted to know. You think, maybe you should give up building decks and just get into tool repair instead. Maybe if you just knuckle down and learn everything there is to know about your new hammer, and your new saw, then you can keep them working long enough to get back to building decks. But you’d really rather just be building decks and not spending all your time learning about the latest version of your tools. Sigh.

And then you think, what if these clowns designed everything?! We wouldn’t get anything done.


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